We question the priorities of a government that funds private schools that are able to fundraise millions of dollars each year, yet allows public school principals to publicly plead for the most basic of education resources.
We were pleased to be part of this wonderful winter edition of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives education journal, Our Schools/Our Selves- Winter 2018.
Knowing there are many groups, organizations and parties actively lobbying to privatize public education we believe now more than ever we must continue to stand and advocate for an equitable and accessible public education system that serves to meet the needs of all students. It is not an easy task. Those who benefit from, and advocate for, a market based system are among the most privileged in our society, with deep pockets.
We aim to counter those voices.
We want to continue advocating.
We want to keep going.
We can do more with your support!
Please consider donating to our volunteer run non-profit organization, so in defence of public education, we can KEEP GOING.
We are pleased to announce our second Annual School Survey is out. The survey will be sent to every school in Alberta that receives public funding. We encourage you to talk to your school administrator about filling out the survey. You can find a copy of the survey at at: SOS Alberta 2017 School Survey Schools have until December 15, 2017 to complete the survey, please contact us if you have any questions. A copy of last year's survey and our accompanying report can be found at: SOS Alberta 2016 Survey & Annual Report
On November 2, 2017 the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 24, An Act to Support Gay Straight Alliances. Protecting the privacy & human rights of Alberta youth and supporting GSA's has been something SOS Alberta has been active on for many months as allies of those who have worked on these issues for years. We are so pleased to see legislators putting forth legislation that puts students at the centre of policies that will ensure the protection of the safety, health and rights of some of our most vulnerable youth.
Calgary student Ace Peace and his mom Lindsay Peace both spoke at the announcement of Bill 24 about their experiences and journey. Their story and the stories of many students and families across the province are what guide and inspire us in our advocacy. Ace and Lindsay have kindly allowed us to post the speeches they shared. We hope every Albertan will read their words and be encouraged to see the great things we can do when we all come together and listen to the voices of those who are far too often silenced.
Hi everyone. My name is Ace Peace. I am seventeen and a grade 12 student in Calgary. I am transgender. This means that I was assigned female at birth but I am a boy. I have always been a boy.
I came out to my mum when I was 15. I was in grade 9. One of the first people we told afterwards was my teacher. She recommended some reading material to my mum. She and I started a GSA at my school. She asked me what name and pronouns I wanted to use and she made a presentation to help tell my classmates. A school psychologist provided me with the information and paperwork needed to change my gender marker. How awesome is that? AND I can assure you that no other students were harmed during this process. Seriously though, I can't figure out why some people think that this somehow might negatively affect other kids. To those people, please believe me, everyone is fine. No one has had to lose anything or give anything up for this to happen.
I was a bit nervous about going to high school the next year but after going to the orientation day my fears disappeared. There was a huge GSA!! I couldn't believe how many kids were in it. I came home that day with GSA stickers that said "I love diversity" stuck all over my face. Looking back, that part seems a little silly- but give me a break. I was pretty freaking excited.
Although I was the first openly trans kid at both of these schools, I knew that I wasn't going to be alone. I knew that I didn't have to hide. I knew I was going to be okay. I knew that I would be accepted and even more awesome, that my differences and diversity might even be celebrated. I knew that I had allies, friends, classmates and teachers who would have my back.
Although it hasn't been easy, my journey has been one that I have been surrounded by love, support, and acceptance every step of the way. As time goes on, I have been sad to learn that it's not always this way for kids like me. Some kids, for different reasons, don't feel safe to come out. Some kids aren't as lucky as me to have such an awesome family. For these kids, sometimes GSAs are the only thing they have. GSAs are the ONLY safe place they have. I don't want to imagine what it would mean for them if they would be outed for attending. I am scared to even think about it.
Being a kid can be tough. Being a queer kid can be even tougher. I can't understand why anyone would want to make it even more difficult for us. And as much as I try to, I don't understand what people are so afraid of or what they think happens in a GSA or why it would be necessary for anyone to tattle on a kid for going. It's pretty simple...there are kids who can't tell their parents they are queer. Like really can't. It might even be a safety issue. If that's the case, they need somewhere to go. There are also kids who are just afraid or nervous to tell their parents but will eventually, especially with the support of other queer kids. There are also straight kids who are just trying to be better people and make a difference in the world. Sometimes we talk about serious stuff. Sometimes we just hang out and chat. Sometimes it's even a little boring. I don't understand why this is so scary to some adults. As far as I can tell, it's only scary if you're the kid. It's only scary if you're the kid and an adult wants to out you and you're not ready or that would make you unsafe.
I don't actually like politics. Really, I don't. It's way too much arguing and talking for me. I'd way rather listen to music. And truthfully I'd rather be at home listening to music hanging out with my partner right now, just being a kid. But this is too important. And so, politics have become important to me, especially the more I learn. I am proud to be an Albertan. I have travelled all over the world and this is the place I love the most. I am proud of our government. I am proud of MY government. I am proud that I have a voice and that they listen to me. I am just a kid. A queer kid. But they listen to me and kids like me, because we know what we are talking about. We are the ones actually living this while everyone else is arguing about it. I am grateful that my government wants what's best for me and all kids, that they want us all to grow up to be kind and caring and compassionate. And safe. And I am the most grateful that they know and believe that all kids actually means ALL kids.
I would like to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to speak today. I am thankful to have a voice.
Hi everyone. Thank you to Minister Eggen for allowing me the time to speak today. My name is Lindsay Peace, I am the proud parent of three teenage boys, one of whom is transgender. Through Ace's efforts to live an authentic life, I also have been on a journey of self discovery. It turns out that I am a fierce mama bear, with a lot to say. I have become an advocate for queer kiddos and their families. I have founded a nonprofit organization called The Skipping Stone Foundation that is dedicated to changing to the narrative of trans and gender diverse youth. I have had the privilege and honour of witnessing and walking beside and playing a small part in so many families' journeys. I feel confident in saying that I speak on behalf of many kids and parents today.
Make no doubt, that as fearful as some critics are of inclusive and protective policies and of comprehensive sex ed, parents of queer kids are much more scared of the alternative. And queer kids are terrified. And unlike the critics, our fear is fact based. Without a doubt, kids are suffering. Dr Kris Wells recently published a study on trans youth in Alberta. The rates at which these kids are facing discrimination and violence are staggering. This study clearly shows that this population of kids is subject to alarmingly high rates of self harming behaviours and a disproportionately high number of these kids consider and attempt suicide compared to their peers. These are facts.
Having safe and inclusive policies at school will greatly reduce these numbers. GSAs and being able to feel safe attending them will create safer learning environments, for these kids, as well as their peers.
I understand as a parent that I want to know what my kids are doing. I want to know who they are hanging out with, what activities they are engaging in. I want to know the decisions they are making. Because it's important to me, I talk to them. I ask them. Over all else, I create and maintain open dialogue with them and a sense of safety and security. If for some reason one of my children didn't feel that they could come to me, with anything, then I believe that is a reflection on me. That's my bad. And I would need to look at doing things differently. In the meantime I would be grateful if they felt that they could turn to a teacher. The more folks who support my kids and are committed to their health and well being can only be a positive thing. Also, I think it's important to point out that it's not an either/or situation. Ultimately, I believe that we are working together. Parents and educators. When it comes to GSAs, specifically to the outing of students, I think there is a misunderstanding that means that parents will never find out. That this will be some sort of dirty little secret between the student and the school forever. I have heard dozens of accounts from families in which it was teachers who actually helped their students disclose their queer identity to their families. I know a former student whose teacher actually helped him write a letter to his parents to tell them he was trans. I know many kids who are queer who spent a long time at their GSA until they became confident enough in themselves to have a conversation with their parents.
I also know that GSAs teach allies how to be better allies, how to be better people. I know that kids learn a greater understanding of the adversity faced by their LGBTQ2+ peers and learn compassion. GSAs allow students an opportunity to be apart of creating positive change. Although I do know as a parent how great it is to hear that our kids are wonderful and doing amazing things, I certainly don't believe that anyone needs to be outed for doing so.
Our kids spend the majority of their time at schools. Our future depends on our kids, all of our kids. We need to be able to send them out into the world armed with all of the skills, abilities, and tools possible. This requires safe and inclusivity learning spaces. I am so incredibly grateful to have a government that is so dedicated to creating and maintaining these spaces. Some of our kids lives depend on it.
- Lindsay Peace
For many Albertans creating safe and inclusive spaces in Alberta schools is a very important issue that will inform how they will cast their vote when voting in the upcoming school board elections. A key component to this decision is how local trustee candidates support human rights, GSA(Gay Straight Alliances) and how they respect the confidentiality of students. For many Albertans protecting these things are non-negotiable.
We are asking that trustee candidates take this pledge to state publicly that they support safe, caring, and inclusive school environments that respect and protect LGBTQ2 youth. Those trustee candidates that take the pledge will have their name published here on our website so that citizens can see for themselves which local candidates are committed to Alberta children by protecting their privacy and upholding their human rights.
Please share this pledge with all your local school board trustee candidates. Candidates can agree to this pledge by emailing us their details (name, school board, city, ward/zone) Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
*Please note signing this pledge is strictly about confirming for Alberta voters a commitment by trustee candidates to the points listed in pledge below, and is not an indication of support for SOS Alberta initiatives.
The 2017 municipal elections are fast approaching and include school board trustee elections. Every Albertan who is eligible to vote in Alberta can vote for a local school board trustee. Elected trustees and school boards are responsible for a wide range of roles including the day to day operations of schools and the broader vision for public education in districts and the province.
We at SOSAB often hear from citizens who are unsure of what to ask their local trustee candidates and sometimes aren't sure what trustees actually do. This is why we have created the Trustee Election Handbook. It is a dynamic document that citizens can use to start conversations with and about their local trustee candidates. We would like to offer the space of our website for these conversations.
We are encouraging people to share the Handbook widely with friends and family, print it off and have it ready at the door for when candidates come knocking or take it with them to a candidate event.
Most importantly we would like people to add their own questions or perspectives. Every region in the province has a unique set of issues when it comes to public education and we would really like Albertans to share back with us and in turn with other Albertans their thoughts or questions about what they think is important to Albertans when it comes to public education. We'll try our best to post links to lists of candidates throughout the province too.
Have a look at the document below and comment, email or DM us any of your thoughts on new questions or issues we have missed and we will post them. As usual our usual caveat on comments applies(see sidebar), we want this to a positive, productive and inclusive space and will monitor things accordingly.
SOS Alberta strives to put educational issues like equity into a broader context. Other educators, researchers and education commentators across the globe have also been examining issues of education, race and equity. We are publishing this op ed by Benjamin Doxtdator as he has observed a troubling trend in some recent educational research.
On Friday August 17 (today), you have Tom Bennett keynoting your Leadership Conference in Toronto and I want to make you aware of some very serious concerns that are emerging around him. For some context, I attended OISE back in 2010 and I now live and teach in Brussels. So, my concern is very much rooted in my love for Toronto, the commitment that Toronto schools and educators make to equity, and my heritage as a member of the Oneida band of First Nations peoples.
As you know, Bennett runs ResearchEd, and in the last few days, his close associate, friend, and speaker set to appear at ResearchEd in Toronto, David Didau, has made some very troubling claims about links between student performance, race, and the heritability of IQ. David Didau acknowledges that his speculation about what behavioral genetics might mean for school may face resistance because “it’s not popular to go about attributing children’s success or failure to who they are rather than what they experience.” And who are children? In What Causes Behavior?, he tells us that “the mountains of evidence that have piled up in favour of genetic causes for behaviour as opposed to environmental ones is solemnly impressive.” Thus, “it seems as if schools and teaching may matter a lot less than we would like to believe.”
In the comment section, someone asks Didau, “Why do we see certain cultures doing much better (or worse) than others within the same education system?” Didau responds, “Well, firstly there’s peer effects, and secondly - despite the unpopularity of discussing such things, there are fairly clear racial differences in IQ.”
When I and many members in the community called out the scientific racism in Didau's remarks, Tom Bennett blocked me. In none of Bennett’s frequent tweets has he condemned this statement in spite of requests to do so. Instead he has blocked the people expressing concern. When Darren Chetty challenged Tom Bennett about the lack of racial diversity at ResearchEd in the UK, Bennett blocked Chetty on Twitter, thus removing the voice of an important educator of colour from the 'grassroots movement' that Bennett purports the conference to be. Many important debates about education, and a government report on behavior which Bennett has authored, are found on Twitter.
As a first response, Didau wrote a post called “Differences and Similarities", where he cited Linda Gottfresdon as representing a "mainstream view of the research" about race and IQ, when she is in fact monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting scientific racism. He only later acknowledged that he did not investigate his source, despite people repeatedly pointing out her history to him. In another comment on his blog, he directs someone to “the evidence collected on the Human Biodiversity Website”, which features both Linda Gottfredson and the American White Supremacist Richard Spencer. The first link on the HBD website under ‘Multimedia’ is this: Are your children prepared for the global future that lies ahead? The video mocks people who celebrate diversity and features these demeaning images of Black people that present them as a danger to white neighbourhoods.
When Didau finally issued a statement entitled "On Being Called a Racist", where the only damage he acknowledges is to his own feelings, Bennett Tweeted Didau's post and referred to the concerned community as a "Twitch Hunt" and "The idea that I'm required to [speak out] is, frankly, reminiscent of The Crucible."
As some further context on Bennett, he has made light of racism on Twitter by ironically replying to people talking about Scottish food: "So racist. I feel like my lived experience is being marginalized." It's no accident that he casually mocks people who take racism and hate speech seriously. He also contributes to Spiked, an advocate of the idea that "hate speech is free speech." This kind of discourse is much closer to the “many sides” approach we have seen recently in the news than a genuine stance on social justice.
As a sample from Spiked’s education section, here are some bylines:
“The War on ‘Dead White Dudes’: The 'decolonise the curriculum' campaign is a threat to universalism”
“The Campus Rape Panic Demeans Women”
“Students’ Temper Tantrum Over Trump”
“The Tyranny of ‘Ze’: Transgender politics isn’t radical, it’s deeply conservative”
“Turning Education Into Welfare: Both Labour and the Conservatives want to turn schools into wellness retreats.”
In an interview with Spiked about 'the crisis of authority of the classroom', Bennett says there is a “chronic" "crisis of adult authority" in the broader culture and classroom, and he believes children want a restoration of adult authority because they are “waiting to be told what to do”. He is concerned that not teaching about “cultural legacy” might “endanger civilisation”. In the Telegraph, Bennett is quoted as saying, ““[With] generation snowflake, sometimes, there is an element of truth that children are a little bit inoculated perhaps against the harsher realities of the world.” The sad irony is that while Bennett is against ‘no platforming’, he effectively does just that by blocking and excluding the voices of women and people of colour.
It is not just in debates about education that Bennett practices exclusion; he also advocates for excluding students in cases: “We may not like excluding pupils, internally, externally, permanent or fixed term, but they are a necessary part of the system. The desire to reduce exclusions by simply turning off the tap ironically creates circumstances where their use is required more and more, as misbehaviour backs up the pipe and remodels the social norms of the school in the direction of incivility and belligerence.” Bennett’s suggestion to use exclusion for ‘misbehavior’ of course contradicts Ontario’s progressive discipline policy: “Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline.”
Bennett is part of a larger trend that focuses on ‘evidence-based’ methods, where science is very narrowly construed and too often supplants debates about the broader purposes of education. Ultimately, statistical data about standardized subjects replaces the need for conversations about culturally relevant pedagogy. And rather than construct tables of heritability scores, we need to construct images that help us understand what Gloria Ladson-Billings calls the education debt we owe to those who have been oppressed:
“The images should remind us that the cumulative effect of poor education, poor housing, poor health care, and poor government services create a bifurcated society that leaves more than its children behind. The images should compel us to deploy our knowledge, skills, and expertise to alleviate the suffering of the least of these.”
While I believe firmly in fair and robust debate, it surprises me and others that someone whose own values stand counter to those I proudly believe to be Canadian - those of acceptance, inclusion and compassion - is to be welcomed uncritically into our community.
To be clear, I am not asking you to cancel Bennett's keynote. Nor am I accusing Bennett of being a racist. But his habit of dismissing and excluding dissenting voices is very troubling to many educators, and it would be reassuring to the wider community without Bennett’s platform to see that acknowledged and challenged at your conference.
Thank you for your time,
This September 3, 2017 SOS Alberta will be participating in the Calgary PRIDE parade. We have been very vocal of our support for Gay Straight Alliances in Alberta and feel strongly all children must feel supported and safe at school. With the help of a very talented Calgary student graphic designer (SKDesigns) we have created a limited edition OK WITH GSA T-shirt. You can wear one to show your support of both SOS Alberta and GSAs with a minimum $50 donation. The T-shirt has a $30 value. Your donation will go along way to helping us advocate for a safe, accessible and equitable education system.
Thank you for your ongoing support!
Order form can be found on the right hand side bar.
Recently, on social media, SOS Alberta was asked “Who are you? You know my name. I don’t know yours…” by a member of the Provincial Legislature, and a staff member of another politician accusing us further of being a 'front group for the NDP', (not the party they belong to). Full threads can be found here and here - but what this is really about is our questioning of public dollars going to private schools and how this diverts resources from the public education system. Although our executive’s biographies are on our website and there are plenty of methods to get in touch and meet with us, we were still questioned about who we are. Here is our answer.
We are Support Our Students Alberta, a public education advocacy group which advocates for the right of all children to an equitable and accessible public education system.
We are volunteers.
We are non-profit.
We are community builders.
We are engineers, psychologists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, custodians, speech language pathologists, scientists, dental hygienists, chiropractors, butchers, landscapers, accountants, homemakers, cashiers -- hard workers, contributing to all aspects of Alberta society.
We are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and children.
We are cis, trans, bi, questioning.
We are Muslim, Christian, atheists.
We are public school graduates, private school graduates, we are urban, we are rural.
We are immigrants, refugees, 4th generation Canadians, FNMI.
We are disabled, gifted, special needs, able-bodied.
Most importantly, we are Albertans who believe in the promise of public education to build community across all these beautiful differences.
What we believe:
We believe public education is a child’s human right.
Every child regardless of income should have a barrier free public education.
We believe there is room for improvement, but also that public education is worth fighting for.
We know children go to school with trauma, mental health needs, food insecurity, poverty-related issues that can create barriers to their learning, something no PISA or standardized test score can measure.
We know children go undiagnosed and unsupported for learning disabilities, and early intervention could greatly affect their future.
We know some parents and families are unable to pay for the testing required to properly diagnose and treat their children.
We know some children feel unsafe at school, because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their gender identity.
We believe GSAs save lives.
We believe institutionalized and systemic racism exists throughout our education system.
We believe an unsupported, alienated and marginalized student becomes an alienated and marginalized citizen.
We believe competition has no place in education. Inherent in competition are winners and losers and no child should lose when it comes to education. Especially when the competition is tilted in favour of the privileged.
We believe choice is a euphemism for segregation.
We believe public funds should be for public schools.
What we have done:
We have conducted a province wide survey researching how education resources manifest on the frontlines for Alberta children.
We have met with representatives of all provincial parties, including the Wildrose, Liberal Party, Alberta Party, Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and the New Democratic Party.
We have met with elected officials at the municipal and school board levels.
We have collaborated with public education advocacy groups across Alberta and in other provinces and internationally.
We travelled to 4 cities across Alberta to screen the enlightening documentary Backpack Full of Cash, a cautionary tale of the privatization of education.
We engage with anyone and everyone who wants to work in the best interests of children. Our door has always been and remains open for these discussions.
We are a non-partisan group. Above all else, what we do, the countless nights we volunteer to write, to plan, to work, to collaborate, we do because, we believe that when we meet the needs of the most vulnerable children, we elevate the quality of life for all children. We do not volunteer our time and energy for our own children; we do it because we believe in the institution of public education. We do not think education should be political, but the moment public funds were provided to private institutions, it became a political issue. We won't pretend that 250 million dollars a year is not diverted from the public system to private hands. We won't pretend competition does not hurt the most vulnerable of our population. We won't pretend outing LGBTQ2+ children is not religious infiltration of a public service.
We also will not be intimidated, demeaned, or condescended to, when a politician or anyone else asks “Who are you”?
We are Albertans, we are proud, engaged citizens, who will continue to advocate, not because we need you to know who we are, but because our children are watching.